NASA Reveals How Butterfly Nebula Originated And Got Its Wings

Count on NASA to keep providing us with stunning images. NASA never fails to impress, whether the subject is our solar system or far-off galaxies. 

The Butterfly Nebula, officially known as NGC 6302, was captured beautifully by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and published a while back.

 Within the depths of the constellation Scorpius, there lies a stunning cosmic butterfly spreading its wings. NASA has now clarified how the Butterfly Nebula acquired its wings.

Origination Of “The Planetary Nebulae”

 Recent findings suggest that planetary nebulae are created when red giant stars lose their outermost layers as they exhaust their helium fuel, becoming hot, dense white dwarf stars that are roughly the size of Earth, according to Science Daily.

The research also stated that the carbon-rich material that was shed creates brilliant patterns when it is softly blown into the interstellar medium. The majority of planetary nebulae have a fairly circular form, but a few, like the appropriately named “Butterfly Nebula,” have an hourglass or wing-like structure.

 These formations are most likely the result of the material expanding into a pair of nebular lobes, or “wings,” due to the gravitational pull of a second star orbiting the nebula’s “parent” star. The wings grow throughout time without altering their initial shape, much like an expanding balloon, according to ANI.

Related: This Stunning Image Of Distant Cone Nebula Dazzles Astronomers

Variants Of Nebula

However, recent findings indicate that something is wrong with the Butterfly Nebula. When a group of astronomers led by those from the University of Washington analyzed two Hubble Space Telescope exposures of the Butterfly Nebula made in 2009 and 2020, they discovered significant changes in the substance within the wings. 

The American Astronomical Society’s 241st meeting will be held in Seattle on January 12, and the researchers will present their findings there. Strong winds are causing intricate material changes inside the nebula’s wings. They are trying to figure out how such activity can occur on what should be a “sputtering, mostly dead star with no fuel left.”

Team leader Bruce Balick, an emeritus professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, said, “I’ve been comparing Hubble images for years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Estimate About The ” Butterfly Nebula “

 The Butterfly Nebula is extreme for the mass, speed, and complexity of its ejections from its central star, whose temperature is more than 200 times hotter than the sun yet is just slightly larger than the Earth.”

To determine the rates and patterns of feature growth within the nebula’s wings, the researchers analyzed high-quality Hubble photos shot 11 years apart. Lars Borchert, an undergraduate participant from the University of Washington who is now a doctoral student at the Danish institution Aarhus University, carried out the majority of the analysis.

Expansion Within Seconds

While material closer to the hidden central star is expanding considerably more slowly, at approximately a tenth of that speed, the outer regions of the nebula are expanding quickly, at a rate of about 500 miles per second.

Within the wings, the jets’ paths overlap one another, creating “messy” growth patterns.

According to Balick, it is difficult to use current models of how planetary nebulae form and evolve to account for the nebula’s multi-polar and rapidly shifting internal structure.

“This shows us that we don’t fully comprehend the whole range of shaping mechanisms at play when planetary nebulae develop, said Balick, who added that at this time, they are all just speculations. 

Since infrared light from the star can pass through the dust, the next step is to use the James Webb Space Telescope to study the nebular center.”


In the distant future, star systems and planets will develop as stars like our sun swell into red giants and create planetary nebulae, ejecting carbon and other comparatively heavy elements into the interstellar medium.

This latest study and other “time-lapse” studies of planetary nebulae can help show how the components of future star systems will form as well as how the building blocks of our own galaxy were created and accumulated billions of years ago.

According to Balick, “the shaping processes provide crucial information into the history and impacts of the star activity.” “It’s a creation tale that is repeating over and over in our universe,” he continued.

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